Two days ago, on the 16th of November, 2016, a graphic video footage emerged of a boy who was lynched by a mob in Lagos. It was alleged that he stole – or attempted to steal – garri, a staple in Nigeria. It was also said that he was 7 years old. Another side of the story later emerged claiming the boy was not 7 years old as earlier speculated, and that it was a phone he attempted to steal, not garri as reported. There were also suggestions that the child was part of the hoodlums who prowl the area, mugging, maiming, and killing their victims in their attacks; he even allegedly threatened to kill his ‘attempted-victim’. Whether he attempted to steal garri or a phone, whether he was 7 or not, and whether he was a member of an organized criminal group or not, what is certain is that the boy was beaten mercilessly and then burnt to death. The most disturbing part is that people stood by and watched it happen. What kind of a society have we become?
Let’s assume he indeed stole garri. What would make a child steal food? Hunger. Before a child would steal to assuage his hunger, it would be because nobody agreed to give him food. And that is a shame on all of us. We have become a society that will look the other way while one of its own goes hungry. It is distressing that an adult, let alone a child, would be killed for stealing food, or any other thing for that matter. Or let’s even assume that he stole a phone. Is that worthy of death? Is the value we place on lives so inconsequential? Is that the African tradition our forebears bequeathed to us? Where is the love we are supposed to have for our neighbours? Where is our sense of community? Where is our sanity?
Why are we so quick to take lives? Why are we so quick to strip someone naked without hearing them out? Even when it is a lady, all her dignity is stripped from her, usually with other ladies approving? Why? Why? Why? Where is our humanity?
This incident is not a rare event. It is sadly one that is all too familiar to us. Every day, we see, in real life or on the pages of newspapers, the charred remains or mutilated body of what was someone’s son, someone’s daughter, someone’s father, or someone’s mother lynched on the allegation of theft, being a witch, stealing someone’s penis or being a scammer. For how long can we continue like this?
While the boy was being beaten, and subsequently set ablaze, people were standing by and watching the whole thing. Some were driving by. Nobody tried to stop it, or spoke against it. These are people who have children or relations of the same age as that boy at home. They were all locked up in the crowd approval for what was going on. They were expressing their anger and frustration on the easiest target they could find: a little rascal who did not deserve to live. With such righteous anger, I wonder why corrupt politicians are still strutting around free. It is amazing that the same crowd that would break into praise singing if they saw the politicians who have kept them in perpetual poverty does not hesitate to put a petty thief to death.
Of course it is easy to see the crowd as wicked and evil. But when considered deeply, it becomes apparent that that incident was not a localized event. It is easy to point fingers and call them barbaric, and to think that it cannot happen where you are. But you are wrong. That incident is not a Lagos thing. It is the story of what Nigeria has become; what we have become as a society. We are all guilty of jungle justice. You can say, “I’ve not killed anyone.” But that does not change it. We are all guilty of looking the other way when someone suffers injustice. When we hear of a thief who was mobbed, we say gleefully, “Serves them right!” We think that as long as it does not happen to us, then we are good. We are wrong!
It is also important that we consider those who are terrorized daily by criminals; those who live perpetually in fear of being attacked or robbed by hoodlums. Sadly, we live in a country where nothing works, including the police. Sometimes, reporting cases to the police is akin to reporting the criminals to themselves. For the criminals are arrested and then released after having found out who reported them. Usually, they get the information from the police. So they go after the whistle blowers. This has forced people to do the easiest thing: take the laws into their hands and administer justice as it seems best to them. But then, no matter how inept the police are or how biased our judicial system is, the mob is still incapable of administering justice. That is because everything a mob does is rooted in anger; not reason. The question is, can justice truly come out of anger? Don’t we all have times that we’ve taken a course of action in anger that we later regret? One of the chief characteristics of a mob is its quickness. It is sudden. It pounces. It takes about 10 seconds, more or less, for the mob to decide whether to administer their brand of justice. All that a mob requires to a person of a crime is an allegation. Nobody is safe in that kind of environment. Plus, mob action can be incited to pursue personal vendetta.
Apart from the fact that the mob lacks the capacity to reason, they do not leave their victim any room for appeal. They are the Magistrate Court, High Court, Appeal Court, and Supreme Court all put together. Their actions do not leave any opportunity to seek remedy. That is scary. Consider the implications when one is later found to be innocent after being killed. Can that be justified? Is that the type of justice system we want?
It is unfortunate that we have amongst us parents who are criminally irresponsible. They shirk their responsibilities to their children, forcing them to fend for themselves. As a result, we have children who become thugs and touts from a very young age. Something that was unthinkable in the past. Others become beggars on the streets, constituting nuisance to the public. These go against traditional African cultures. These are things we must come together as a society to tackle. Beating people up or burning them is not the solution. Many innocent people will end up being killed as a result. It could be anybody.
Mob justice persists because we do nothing about it. On the 5th of October, 2012, in an incident that is now popularly referred to as “Aluu 4”, four students of the University of Port Harcourt were gruesomely murdered by a mob for allegedly being robbers. It was reported that the whole community came to witness the incident. The students were beaten and set ablaze by the mob. Turned out they were accused wrongly. Nigerians expressed outrage online, and then collectively forgot about it. Not too long ago in Kano, a woman was beheaded by a mob on the allegation of blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad. Nigerians expressed outrage. The ring leaders were arrested, and just last week were released, as the Magistrate Court – as well as the Attorney General of the state – declared that the men had no case to answer. Nigerians have however collectively forgotten about the matter. And now this recent one. From all indications, Nigerians will express outrage, as they are already doing, and will collectively forget about it. That is not good. We must stop this collective amnesia. There comes a time when we must say, “Enough is enough!” Enough of the killings, whether by hoodlums or by mobs trying to get even.
The Child Right Act must be taken seriously to discourage parents from shirking their responsibilities to their children. There should be punishment for parents who criminally neglect their children. And we should endeavour to build up our sense of community. The upbringing of children is supposed to be a community effort.
Furthermore, we should come out as a society to discourage people from taking the laws into their hands. We must force our National and state assemblies to make laws that will discourage mob actions. Both the federal and state governments should, through their orientation agencies educate Nigerians on the negative aspects of mob justice. Of course it must be backed up with a responsive police force and a fair judicial system. Churches, mosques, and civil society organisations should mount campaigns against mob justice. Everyone has a role to play. Let’s educate those in our spheres of influence, highlighting the barbaric and unfair nature of mob justice. It is chilling when you consider the fact that you or someone close to you could be a victim. And if you witness one, don’t keep quiet and walk away. Say something. Your voice may be the only sane voice in that atmosphere of dementia that will bring people back to their senses.
Let’s stop this jungle mentality; in the jungle, no one is safe!